By Dickson Jere
Once, the President asked his Vice to sit-in for him and chair cabinet meeting for few minutes. He went to take a call in his office. After an hour, he walked back to the cabinet room and only found Ministers dispersing.
“What has happened?” a visibly surprised President asked.
“The meeting is finished…” I answered.
“How?” he inquisitively questioned.
You see, Cabinet Meetings used to take long and ended with late lunch with the President. But that day, the Vice President – George Kunda, SC – did not allow any debate on agenda items unless one wanted to change position. By design, each ministry submits their view point on any agenda item in advance and everyone knows what the position of each ministry is. And so, the Vice President followed that route and constantly hit the gavel with “no debate and let us move to next item”. Within 45 minutes, the meeting which used to take about 5 hours was over!
In contrast, President Rupiah Banda allowed debate. He never expressed his position on any issue until the debate is exhausted. That way, he told me, allowed him to assess the thinking of each minister as well as their individual grasp of issues beyond the Cabinet Memorandum or “Cab Memo” as we call it.
“That way, you learn and understand your colleagues better,” he said, adding that he got that tact from President Kenneth Kaunda. He allowed them even to stray outside the agenda.
I have since followed that tact and use it in most meetings regardless of the nature – board meetings, sports, church and all. Do more of the listening and be the last to contribute unless you are the mover of a motion. That way you learn the thinking of others and the “real agenda” of the meeting. Very few decisions are actually made in meetings. There is always a caucus before the actual meeting where decisions are made and presented to the innocent meeting.
“Observe the flow of the meeting and you can tell the agenda of those who caucused,” Lawyer and Businessman late Wila Mung’omba once told me.
“Always, speak last or don’t speak at all if not sure….,” he told me, adding that the silence will always discomfort those who plotted the agenda.
Two weeks ago, the board chairman asked me thrice for my opinion on an issue I knew was predetermined. I opted to mute myself. He then adjourned the meeting to have a “tête-à-tête” with me.
“We have been given instructions by the powers that be to pass this decision..” he disclosed and admitted he did speak with few board members to solicit for advance support.
“I know…” I said and added: “I was also spoken to by the same people who called you”.
Anyway, always be observant in meetings and do not speak first on issues you have very background and context. You may be used without knowing the real agenda – these are things Chibamba Kanyama, Patrick Chisanga and Mumba Kapumpa rarely teach you during the board orientation – they concentrate on the real meat – Board Charters and Conduct of Directors.
Have a lovely Sunday